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The BBC's Alan Whitehouse
"Since Hatfield British Midland domestic flights have never been busier"
 real 56k

Rail Passenger's Council spokeswoman, Suzanne May
"The uncertainty is the problem"
 real 56k

Philip Benham Assn of Train Operating Companies
"The picture painted is too pessimistic"
 real 28k

Monday, 8 January, 2001, 09:57 GMT
Rail passengers 'gone for good'
Track repairs
The network has been severely disrupted for months
The image of rail travel has been so badly damaged by the chaos following the Hatfield crash that it will be years before many passengers will return, according to research obtained by the BBC.

The study compiled for Railtrack and rail operators says it could take up to five years to win back passengers - and some will desert the railways for good.

The research results come a day after many rail companies raised their fares, sparking widespread anger among passengers.

Some passenger groups claim British fares are now among the most expensive in the world - a standard open return fare between London and Manchester now costs 150, a 50% rise in less than two years.


The structure of the industry is fundamentally flawed

Jonathan Bray, Transport 2000
The research paper, based on a Mori poll of public attitudes, says the chaos and disruption has almost certainly done lasting and perhaps irreparable damage.

It says: "It has led to a change in travel patterns for many users, some of whom will not return for some time, if ever.

"There will be a long-term loss of passengers, although it is difficult to estimate how many."

Jonathan Bray, of the pressure group Transport 2000, has been predicting for weeks that some commuters will change jobs or lifestyles so they can make do without trains completely.

'Radical solutions'

"The structure of the industry is fundamentally flawed, it's too fragmented, it's hard to know who's in charge.

"We need to get the railways running more like an army again, rather than a market place.

Hatfield crash in October
The Hatfield crash sparked widespread disruption
"That means some radical solutions from government, and the courage to accept that the current system isn't working, and that they need to do something radical about it do make it work in the future.

The research paper believes it could take four to five years to move passenger numbers back to the levels experienced pre-Hatfield.

"After that, without major cultural change, progress will be very slow," it says.

Public confidence 'entire focus'

But a Railtrack spokesman said that if the industry regained public confidence quickly, passenger numbers would rise to previous levels much faster than the report predicted.

"The way to achieve that is to have robust and reliable timetables and that is what the industry is doing," he said.

New timetables on affected lines come into force on Monday following an intensive track repair programme over the holiday period.

And Railtrack's spokesman said the industry was working to ensure that timetables were back to normal by Easter, with public confidence now its "entire focus".

He stressed that the research had found that "key drivers" for passenger growth remained the same as before the Hatfield crash.

Report 'too pessimistic'

These were traffic congestion and the rising cost of travelling by car.

Railtrack's confidence is backed by Philip Benham commercial services director for the Association of Train Operation Companies (Atoc).

"I believe the picture painted is a little bit too pessimistic," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He admitted the chaos in the wake of the Hatfield crash was the "worst period I can ever remember in my 30-odd years in this industry".


I don't believe what's needed now is for a reorganisation that will take people's eye off the ball

Philip Benham
Atoc
But he was confident passenger numbers would return more quickly than reported once reliability was restored.

Mr Benham dismissed calls for a shakeup of the industry structure saying there was "increasing dialogue with Railtrack at all levels".

"I don't believe what's needed now is for a reorganisation that will take people's eye off the ball. We need to work together to restore confidence in the network."

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See also:

07 Jan 01 | UK
Anger as train fares rise
21 Dec 00 | UK
20m for delayed commuters
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